In most cases, the best waterproof hiking boots are more than enough to keep your feet dry during a hike. Their features and qualities can counter various wet conditions such as rain, sleet, snow, or bodies of water encountered along the trail. For people who want to avoid getting wet, they present the best chance to stay dry while out and about. However, it's important to remember that there is no complete guarantee your feet are totally shielded from water. Here are several ways water can enter your waterproof hiking boots.
Reality check: there is no such thing as a hiking boot that can completely block water. In the event a foot is completely submerged in a stream or lake, water will enter through the boot’s opening. This particular incident will render your waterproof hiking boots useless.
When the rain starts, drops of water will trickle down into your boots. No matter how tight you lace your waterproof hiking boots, raindrops will slowly seep in and come into contact with your feet.
The same logic is applied for terrains filled with ice and snow. Even with waterproof hiking boots, your feet will still be exposed to these elements if the necessary precautions are not taken. For instance, melting snow may find its way into your boots if they dribble down your ankles. In this case, adding a pair of waterproof gaiters can prevent snow and rain from entering a boot.
Old and worn-out waterproof hiking boots won’t be able to function well. Their liners are often impractical against water due to the boot’s age. As such, water will be easily absorbed by the upper.
Things you need to know about waterproof hiking boots
Waterproof membranes have several variations to fulfill different requirements. Hiking footwear companies incorporate waterproof fabrics from third-party manufacturers into their products or use their proprietary technology to accomplish the same goal.
The addition of an enhanced lining in its upper makes a waterproof hiking boot more expensive than its regular counterparts.
Outdoor enthusiasts prefer waterproof hiking boots because of their versatility in various terrain conditions.
The qualities of being waterproof, water repellent and water resistant
When you start searching for a new pair of waterproof hiking boots, you’ll encounter a lot of technical terms. Some boots are advertised as water resistant, water repellent, and waterproof. These jargons may be overwhelming, especially if you don’t have the faintest clue about what they are for. Before biting your nails, you need to know what these terms mean.
Water resistant. As compared to water-repellent and waterproof footwear, water-resistant boots offer the least when it comes to water protection. They contain a thin layer of protective coating to resist water. Water-resistant footgear can survive a light drizzle for a limited amount of time, but they won’t fare well when a heavy downpour occurs or when they are submerged.
Water repellent. Water-repellent footwear represents a step-up from its water-resistant counterparts. Almost every pair of hiking boots is applied with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish straight out of the box. A DWR coating will eventually wear off, especially if these boots are frequently used in harsh conditions. When the DWR finish has worn out, the boots will absorb water rather than block their entry.
Waterproof. Apart from being applied with a DWR finish, a good number of boots include a material that prevents water from being absorbed. These waterproof membranes are strategically placed in the upper to hinder water from gaining access to a boot’s insides. Waterproof hiking boots can withstand rainy weather conditions and water-filled obstacles on the trail.
The components that make a hiking boot waterproof
A hiking boot owes its ability in keeping water out to three upper components—the lining, gusseted tongue, and height of its ankle cuff. The tongue is sewn to the upper. It is connected to both sides of the boot (found under the eyelets). It works in conjunction with the height of the collar to prevent water and debris from entering the boot. Do note that there are boots with a gusset that almost reaches the top. Others are only up to where the ankle support begins. Plus, the combination of an ankle cuff and tongue secures the foot when the laces are locked in. They are often made with the same material used for the upper, such as leather or synthetics.
Along with the tongue and ankle cuff height, specialized fabric membranes are sewn into the boot’s upper layout to prevent water from being absorbed. This fabric material dominates a huge chunk of the boot’s upper to blanket it with enhanced protection against water. There are several waterproof fabric brands on the market. The most popular among them is Gore-Tex.
What is Gore-Tex?
Basically, Gore-Tex is a type of fabric that specializes in preventing water from passing through. This material is woven into the upper of waterproof hiking boots to increase its resistance against the elements. Gore-Tex membranes contain an average of nine billion pores per square inch of its surface. These small pores thwart the entry of water while still allowing moisture to escape. This two-fold advantage is handy in keeping feet dry and comfortable at the same time.
Gore-Tex offers three types of waterproof fabric materials that are designed for different purposes. These are:
Extended Comfort. Hiking footwear that uses the Gore-Tex Extended Comfort liner features optimal breathability, along with waterproofness. Heat and moisture can escape from waterproof hiking boots that use this membrane, making them ideal for warm, humid, or tropical environments.
Performance Comfort. When the terrain gets too tough, Gore-Tex Performance Comfort membranes offer an upgrade in durability and waterproofness. This component is useful for people looking to test the limits of their waterproof hiking boots.
Insulated Comfort. Gore-Tex Insulated Comfort-equipped waterproof hiking boots are best-used in places with low temperatures. The membrane’s insulated design helps keep your feet warm while protecting it from water at the same time.
What are the other waterproofing technologies?
eVent. Just like Gore-Tex, eVent liners are made from expanded polytetrafluoroethylene. Waterproof hiking boots equipped with eVent technology boasts the same water protection and breathability for consumers.
Sympatex. As opposed to Gore-Tex and eVent, Sympatex membranes are constructed from a closed polyether-polyester copolymer that doesn’t contain micropores in its layout. This particular design choice deters water through an absorption and evaporation process.
NeoShell. Polartec NeoShell fabrics, a recent Gore-Tex competitor, are claimed to be better at breathability and waterproofness. NeoShell-equipped waterproof hiking boots allow vapor to pass through the fabric’s sub-micron design by reducing its internal pressure levels.
Keen.Dry.Keen’s proprietary technology that can be found in their waterproof hiking boots and shoes.
OutDry. An OutDry fabric is created using a one-piece patented construcstion method. The result is then bonded to a boot's upper using heat to get rid of any gaps which can store water. Some hiking boots from Columbia use this technology.
ClimaShield Waterproof. Salomon’s ClimaShield is composed of a waterproof bootie and tongue gusset to repel water away.
Hydromax. Ecco’s line of leather hiking boots is equipped with the brand’s exclusive Hydromax technology. Instead of using a membrane, the leather portion is treated during the tanning process to make it more repellent against water.
Why a pair of waterproof hiking boots is essential
Wearing boots that can keep water away gives you a good reason to go hiking or backpacking. Since a lot of people are wary of unpredictable weather conditions, they tend to hold off their outdoor plans. Waterproof hiking boots offer a valid excuse to face these challenges without compromising the welfare of your feet.
Maintaining dry feet is impossible if there are streams and puddles along the path you’re taking. Waterproof hiking boots give you the freedom to go over these terrain conditions ably.
Versatility is an important quality any outdoor junkie appreciates, especially in their choice of footwear. Having a pair of waterproof hiking boots helps you adapt to any terrain or weather condition on the fly. This is advantageous if you want to stay on top of any potential trail difficulty.
All in all, wearing waterproof hiking boots give you more peace of mind whenever you are outdoors. The benefit of having dry feet is crucial for any person on a trail. Rather than spend time and effort in avoiding water, you can enjoy your trip more without these challenges slowing you down.
When not to choose waterproof hiking boots
Boots with waterproof liners aren’t suitable for every terrain condition. In fact, you should not wear them if you are out in a warm or tropical environment. Waterproof hiking boots contain an additional layer in its upper that contributes to an increase in temperature. No matter how breathable they are, the fact remains that it is still one layer too many for this particular terrain.
Waterproof membranes add to the overall weight of a boot. The extra load won’t be noticeable at first, but it’s always there. Wearing waterproof hiking boots will be disadvantageous if you’re going to hike or trek for long distances. Opting to go for lighter hiking shoes or quality hiking sandals is better, especially if you won’t be wading through streams or the weather will be as friendly as possible.
Must-have qualities in your next pair of men's and women's waterproof hiking boots
Prevents water from being absorbed
Keeping your feet dry is the main job of waterproof hiking boots. As you go on your trip, there’ll be instances when you need to wade through streams or cross puddles of water. It’s important for your boots to prevent water from being absorbed. Check out what kind of protective membrane your target boots possess and the type of outdoor activity it is suitable for.
A lot of people confuse boot waterproofness as the opposite of breathability. These two qualities go hand in hand together in waterproof hiking boots, thanks to the wonders of modern technology. An upper with specialized membranes not only resists water, it also allows air to pass through them. Breathable boots will help banish excessive moisture and keep your feet as comfortable as possible.
Fits you well
The fit of a boot is its most important quality. Your feet should feel snug and comfortable inside the boots to prevent them from moving around. If they do move, friction is generated, and blisters will certainly form on the skin. Waterproof hiking boots that fit well on your feet provide the sufficient amount of space to prevent any unnecessary movement. As such, there are important points to consider when checking the fit of a boot.
Your toes must have adequate wiggle room inside a boot. The extra space is beneficial when you are descending since the toes will be pushed forward in this circumstance. Otherwise, a toe injury won’t be far off.
Your preferred waterproof hiking boots should keep your heels in place whenever you’re ascending or making a step.
Waterproof hiking boots must conform to the width of your feet. If it’s too tight, blood won’t flow normally, and your feet will feel suffocated. If it’s too loose, you won’t be able to walk properly, and the weight you’re carrying won’t get the support it needs from your feet.
A hiking boot that can dry fast is just as important as its ability to deter water. When you are outdoors, there’ll be no means to dry off your waterproof hiking boots fast. It’s important to choose footwear that can dry itself off as you’re taking a break from your trip. A mesh upper quickly absorbs water, but it also dries off faster. Your feet won’t have to suffer from too much moisture stuck in the boots and a foul odor that comes along with it.
Suitable for your preferred terrain
Choosing the right kind of waterproof hiking boots is vital to the success of your outdoor activity. If you’re planning to go over a reasonable amount of distance with easy terrain conditions, a pair of lightweight hiking boots should be in order. Thanks to its reduced weight, you’ll have a faster and more comfortable experience on your trip. For more advanced terrains, wearing backpacking or mountaineering boots is a must to support heavier loads. Furthermore, bulkier and stiffer boots afford more support and protection than their lighter counterparts.
Built to last
Waterproof hiking boots need to be durable to withstand diverse ground conditions. Hiking footwear brands manufacture their products using sturdy materials and modern technology to achieve a satisfactory level of durability. Thanks to these factors, the boots are imbued with a lasting degree of resistance against abrasions and shock whenever you use them.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which type of sock would go well with waterproof hiking boots?
The ones made from merino wool are the undisputed champion when it comes to hikers. Common cotton socks are known to absorb moisture and water a lot. When this happens, the sock gets heavier, and excess moisture will make your feet smell bad. Merino wool is better at expelling moisture while keeping your feet warm and snug.
Do waterproof hiking boots require regular maintenance?
Yes, waterproof hiking boots still need to be maintained for them to function well. After each hike, this footgear will accumulate a considerable amount of dirt and debris. What you need to do is clean its exterior using a piece of cloth or brush, and lukewarm water. Don’t apply bleach as it may affect the boot negatively. After you have cleaned your boots, place them somewhere safe to dry off and away from direct heat. Applying treatment solutions can also preserve the quality of your waterproof hiking boots and prolong their lifespan.
Can worn-out or damaged waterproof membranes be fixed?
A waterproof hiking boot that has been tested to its limits sometimes has a damaged liner. Gore-Tex offers a repair kit that contains several adhesive patches you can apply to your worn-out waterproof hiking boots. These patches are a short-term solution. There are no guarantees that they can restore a boot’s old waterproofing capability. It’s better to get a new pair of hikers to ensure optimal water protection.
How can I find waterproof hiking boots that will suit me?
First and foremost, you need to determine the terrain you're about to take and the duration of the trip. Once you’ve accomplished that, you can now start searching for a new pair of hikers. You can try on a new pair in physical stores first. If you can’t find any, try shopping online. Online stores and sellers often offer discounts to their hiking footwear and you get to save time from the comfort of your own home. The biggest downside to online shopping is you won’t be able to test how a boot fits.
Do remember to choose waterproof hiking boots that will fit you well and won’t cause discomfort when you wear them. A good place to start is by fitting them on using the actual type of socks you use outdoors. Try walking for a few steps until you get an idea of how these boots feel on your feet.
It’s important to break in a new pair of waterproof hiking boots first before using them outdoors. By going through this process, the stiffer components of a boot will soften so your feet can be more comfortable in them. If you go on your trip without achieving this feat, you can expect blisters to form. Usually, the best lightweight hiking boots require less than a day to be broken in while bulkier backpacking and mountaineering boots need an average of one to two weeks to soften them up. Just take it slowly by walking in these boots for short distances at a time, and you’ll be able to break them in properly.
Can I waterproof hiking boots that don’t have any water protection?
In a way, you can add water protection to your hiking boots. The most common solution is to apply dubbin wax to a leather boot’s upper. Dubbin is used to soften, condition, and waterproof leather. Do keep in mind that applying this product doesn’t assure total waterproofness to the boots and it might fail at one point or another. Plus, smearing waterproof treatment solutions on a boot can affect its breathability. The wisest course of action is to get waterproof hiking boots for better protection from the elements.
Are waterproof hiking boots usable in terrains filled with snow?
Waterproof boots can be worn in a snowy environment, granted they are insulated to keep your feet warm. Otherwise, they would be rendered useless by low temperatures. Another thing to consider is a boot’s compatibility with crampons. Your chosen waterproof hiking boots should work well with a pair of crampons attached so you’ll have more traction and stability in this type of environment.
What’s going to happen when I hike with water in my boots?
Since hikers are always in motion, their feet will take the brunt of the impact throughout the whole journey. When there is water inside a boot, your feet will experience discomfort with each step. A foot exposed to water inside a boot’s confined space will cause blisters to form.
Basically, blisters form when the outer layer of skin absorbs too much moisture and is unprotected against constant friction. Small bubbles filled with serum will then form on the skin and cause pain to the hiker. Once these blisters have dried out, the skin will crack and take some time to heal.
Another consequence you should be aware of is smelly feet. When water is trapped inside a boot for an extended period, a foul odor will be produced. The moment you take these boots off, the stench will permeate and be a cause of annoyance to anyone.
15 best waterproof hiking boots
Merrell Ontario Mid Waterproof
Merrell Ontario 85 Mid Waterproof
Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX
Vasque Breeze III GTX
Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX
Columbia Newton Ridge Plus II Waterproof
Danner Explorer 650
Merrell Zion Mid Waterproof
Merrell Moab FST 2 Mid Waterproof
La Sportiva Pyramid GTX
Timberland Mt. Maddsen Mid Waterproof
Danner Mountain 600
Salomon OUTback 500 GTX
Merrell Moab 2 Mid Waterproof
Paul loves adventure. Over the past 20 years, he has climbed, hiked, and ran all over the world. He’s summited peaks throughout the Americas, trekked through Africa, and tested his endurance in 24-hour trail races. He has worked in the outdoor industry as a whitewater and hunting guide, gear tester, copywriter, and outfitting specialist at places like The National Outdoor Leadership School, No Barriers USA, and Sierra Trading Post. He has been quoted in NYMag, NBCNews, and Business Insider to name a few.